As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Jesus invites us to a party, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 6 March, 2016. The Reading was Luke 15:1-3, 11-32.
We’re fine with equality so long as we come out on top.
Now, I’m hoping that you will appreciate my jokes a bit more than Liesl does, but I’d like to start off with a joke today. The story goes that this is an old Jewish story. There was a hardworking farmer, and the Lord appeared to him and in response to his hard work and faithfulness granted him three wishes, but with the condition that whatever he wished for, the Lord would give double to his neighbour. The farmer, scarcely believing his good fortune, wished for a hundred cattle. Immediately he received one hundred cattle and was overjoyed until he saw that his neighbour had two hundred. So he wished for a hundred acres of land, and again he was filled with joy until he saw that his neighbour had two hundred acres of land. Rather than celebrating God’s goodness, the farmer could not escape feeling jealous and slighted because his neighbour had received more than he did. Finally, he stated his third wish – that God would strike him blind in one eye. And God wept.
However hypothetical the story might be, we can relate to it a bit. It’s all good and well to receive some good fortune, but if someone else received more than us, then we’re not happy.
On the flip side, if we were to be the one who received more, would we be caring about those who didn’t receive as much? We can say that we would, but often it’s hard – in the moment, our greed can get the better of us, and we forget about it.
In some ways, it’s almost like we want equality in all things, so long as we have more than anyone else… and that’s not really equality is it?
All have sinned
And this is the problem that many people struggle with – that when Jesus died on the cross, he forgave everyone’s sins. And we’re fine with that sentiment, remembering in Romans 3 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” but when push comes to shove, and we’re faced with someone who doesn’t look like our picture of a Christian, we forget that Paul goes on to say “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” So we’re happy say “we’re all sinners” but my sin isn’t as bad as your sin. Or “we’re all justified in Christ” so long as you fit my image of what a Christian looks like.
And that’s exactly what Jesus was getting at with these three parables. Each time, you would have heard the first two verses. I did that to make sure we heard the context of this parable. Jesus isn’t addressing these parables to his disciples, or to his followers, or even to the tax collectors and others he was sitting with. He was directing these stories to the Pharisees and scribes. Now, the Pharisees were a Jewish sect that believed in a strict interpretation of the Jewish law. This included not only the so-called “Moral laws” – which would have included the ten commandments – but also maintained a ritual purity, meaning they wouldn’t eat with certain people, wouldn’t touch certain things, maintained certain temple rituals to ensure that they were always clean – and if they didn’t, then they were out. There were so many parts to uphold, that the reality was that it really was impossible to uphold. So to these people, Jesus tells these three parables.
Now, you’ve heard these parables before, I’m sure. The first one tells of the shepherd who loses a sheep, and leaves the other 99 to go and find the one. Now, apart from the incredible logic that comes from leaving 99 sheep unattended to go and find one, we should also know that in Jesus’ day, the shepherds wouldn’t have been the owners of the sheep. They were working for someone. So for them to lose a sheep would have been a big deal. But having found it, the shepherd could have gone about his business, not let anyone know. But instead, he makes a point of telling everyone – this sheep was lost (read: I stuffed up) but he’s back, so celebrate with me.
The next one tells of the woman who lost the coin. Now a coin doesn’t seem like much, but this was an important coin. It was one of ten that she had, and more than likely it would have been a dowry that she kept, a protection, to look after her should her husband die or if she should get divorced. The money would have afforded her some security, and perhaps even remarriage. So this coin was important, and to say she had lost it would have been a great embarrassment. And when she found it, she could’ve just gone about her business, and no-one would know. But instead, she calls everyone over, and says “I lost my coin” (Read: I stuffed up) but I found it, so celebrate with me.
And after each of these, Jesus tells the Pharisees that there’s more joy in heaven when someone repents, than over 99 people who need no repentance.
Then we have the prodigal son, and after hearing the back story, we get to the point where the son chooses to go back to the Father. And this time, instead of the Son going “I stuffed up, let’s party!” the son goes to the father and says “I stuffed up, let me work for you” and the father goes “I forgive you, let’s party!”. Then the older brother goes “I did all the good stuff, and never got anything.” And the Father goes “All I have has always been yours, but your brother is back, so come and celebrate”
We have an opportunity to celebrate with God
And that’s the point Jesus was trying to get through to the Pharisees. He was saying that it’s all good and well that you’ve done the right thing, and that’s awesome. But, when someone who has made a mistake, no matter how big or small, decides to come back and repent, to turn their life around, then we have a choice to make. We know already that God and all the angels in heaven will be celebrating with them. But we have a choice to make – we are, if you like, the brother out in the field. We can stay out in the field, and be annoyed at the celebration. Or we can join God and all of heaven, and join in the celebration.
If we are to celebrate with God, then we need to experience God’s mercy as well
We have to make that choice though – no one else can make it for us. If we choose to stay out in the field, we choose to hang on to the envy, the jealousy, the discontent that is present – the “but they get more than me” mentality. If we choose to go in and celebrate, we are putting ourselves in the same position – we are asking God to forgive us of our envy, our jealousy, our discontent. We are recognising that because we have all sinned, that we are all equally welcomed into the Kingdom of God. We are recognising that when anyone comes to Christ, when anyone recognises that they are better with him in their lives, then it doesn’t matter who they were, or what they’ve done, because they are a new Creation in Christ Jesus.
So today, I want to invite you to take a look at your life. Maybe you’ve made a mistake, like the shepherd, the woman, or the prodigal son in our parables, and you want to come to Jesus and say sorry, and celebrate his forgiveness. Or maybe you’ve been like the brother, holding onto your envy, jealousy, or discontent, and not welcoming others into the kingdom of God. In the same way, you are invited to come to Jesus, say sorry, and celebrate his forgiveness.